Where to start
The first concerns people have when we start talking about building a house boat is that it will be too expensive and time consuming. These are very legitimate concerns and need to be considered carefully. Plans to build inexpensive plywood shanty boat can be easily found online, but after a little bit of digging we realized two things: these take a long time to build, and fiberglass covered plywood needs continual maintenance.
It turns out there is a really affordable and far more durable alternative: pontoon boats. Floating on two (or three) large aluminium pontoons, these boats, sometimes called party boats, are ubiquitous, easy to maintain and inexpensive. You can find them for as cheap as $500 - just start looking on craigslist and calling marinas. Quick note here - craigslist is full of scammers and we almost got taken by these several times; make sure that you insist on seeing what you are buying first hand and that you never, ever send money to anyone! A few weeks searching lead us to purchase a sturdy 24foot boat with a fully functioning 70 horse-power motor for $1200 from Madeleine, who was both incredibly generous and helpful. Boaters are a unique community of people —they’re used to living on the water and they like sharing their knowledge and Madeleine was no exception. She left us a few gallons of gas and helped to find us a marina where we could load our boat.
When you are buying a boat there are few things that you want to look for: what size fits your project, what are the shape of its pontoons and deck and, if it has a motor, how does it run. Again, this might seem like a daunting proposition, but with a few quick online searches we were able to educate ourselves to make an informed purchase. We’re total novices when it comes to all issues related to boats and trust us when we say that— if we can do it—so can you! The next important element to consider is how much weight can your boat carry. Pontoon Volume x Density of Water = Pontoon Weight Limit & Capacity
If math scares you, no worries, there is a great online calculator for this available here: https://pontoonopedia.com/pontoon-weight-calculator/
Finally, you want to think about transportation. Pontoon boats can be very easily loaded and unloaded onto a boat trailer, and many used pontoon boats come with a trailer. There are two types of trailers — scissor, which are good only for very short distances, and bunk, which allow for longer distances. Again, you’ll want to consider the weight capacity of your trailer in relation to the scale of the project you envision. In our case, we planned on building a rather large cabin, which would entail the addition of a third pontoon for added buoyancy. Without a way to estimate the full weight we opted to hire a shipper to help us move our boat and got incredibly lucky when we were connected with Braden Levesque. Braden has that rare New England mix of quiet competence and the ability to problem solve on the fly. If you need help moving your boat, or really anything, we can't recommend him enough (he can be contacted at 1060ape(at)gmail.com). His patience and willingness to entertain our crazy request enabled us to get our boat transported up to the University of Maine in time for our first residency workshop.